2005 Tokyo Show: Last Words

October 23, 2005

TCC's Auto Show Index by TCC Team (10/3/2005)
Our coverage of the world's major auto shows, year to year.

2005 Tokyo Motor Show Index by TCC Team (10/18/2005)



2005 Nissan GT-R concept

2005 Nissan GT-R concept

Best New Concept: I have a handful of concepts that really impressed me, amidst all of Tokyo ’s traditional goofy-mobiles. There was the beautiful Giugiaro-designed Ferrari GG-150, the intriguing Mini Tokyo Concept, and the significant Lexus LF-Sh, the thinly-disguised replacement for the next-generation LS sedan. But if judged in terms of the concept I can’t wait to actually get inside of, my pick would be the Nissan GT-R Proto. It’s 80-90 percent of the car that will hit the road in 2007, according to chief designer Shiro Nakamura. Even if it wasn’t going to be built, you’d have still had a stand full of photographers giddily snapping pics of this show car.

Best New Production Car: I just spent the last fifteen minutes going over the coverage TCC posted last week to ensure I didn’t miss anything. It only reinforced the question: where are the production vehicles? A surprisingly few new products actually went on display at a show dominated by concepts. Yes, that’s the hallmark of the biennial event, but even fewer production models made it onto the stand this time. With that in mind, two likely production vehicles split this award: the Audi Shooting Brake, which will likely become the next TT, and the Honda Accord prototype, the Sports 4.

2005 Kia Sedona

2005 Kia Sedona

Most Significant Production Vehicle: Yes, it’s still a concept, but my pick is the LF-Sh. Already the top-selling luxury brand in the U.S., Lexus needs to go global, and the production version of the LS is the vehicle the Toyota division will depend on as it launches the Lexus badge globally.

Best Press Conference: How many CEOs do you know who can provide their own entertainment during a news conference. Kudos to Dieter Zetsche, the DaimlerChrysler exec who belies German rigidity, for pulling out his violin and letting it wail during the debut of the Mercedes-Benz F600.

Worst Press Conference: The non-launch of the gorgeous Giugiaro GG-150 concept coupe, buried in a corner of West Hall at the Bridgestone stand. Why wasn’t it the centerpiece of the Ferrari news conference, itself a real non-starter? Dishonorable mention to the chest-puffing Hyundai newser, with its breathless, self-promotional videos. We got the message, thanks.

Who's On Top: The easy answer is Toyota , and no one would be able to argue against that pick. They control half the Japanese market, and are rapidly aiming to overtake the global number one, General Motors. But by several other measures, ranging from profit margins to sheer exuberance, Nissan is the one to watch. It may not be able to topple Toyota , so Nissan has gone and found its own hill to rule.

Who's In The Barrel: Imports. Is it Toyota’s overwhelming dominance? Japan’s subtle import barriers? A nation of xenophobic buyers? Or simply the inability of foreign manufacturers to “crack the code”? Whatever the reason, while imports now control about half the American market, foreign makers can barely climb, collectively, into the double-digit range in Japan.

Personal Best: It’s not a car. It’s an executive — Nissan/Renault CEO Carlos Ghosn, to be specific. Exactly six years to the day after announcing the Nissan Revival Plan, the multicultural man was back on the speaker’s podium, introducing a range of new products and concepts. Six years ago, Ghosn was heading up the company everyone agreed was least likely to survive — remember Bob Lutz suggesting Renault take its $6 billion investment, buy a barge full of gold and sink it in the middle of the ocean? — now Ghosn’s setting benchmarks that even Toyota has to watch carefully.

Prediction for 2006: Barring a sudden revival by General Motors, Toyota will either become the globe’s biggest automaker or at least clearly move into position to topple its U.S. rival.

Biggest News Story: The most common headline emerging from this year’s show has been the big push into hybrids and hydrogen. There were certainly enough alternatively-powered vehicles at Makuhari Messe to justify that coverage. But for me, the real story is that despite some good signs, after a decade of economic decline, the Japanese auto market is still unable to stage a real recovery. Sales this year are up barely a point and by now, few seem to ever expect a real turnaround — adding further impetus to the global push by the likes of Toyota , Nissan and Honda.

New Marty head shot

New Marty head shot

Marty Padgett
Editor and Producer

2005 Lexus LF-Sh concept

2005 Lexus LF-Sh concept

Best New Concept: I’ve been hearing about the Nissan GT-R coming to America since I had both youthful vigor and a full head of hair, so I’m not among those getting overly excited about that new concept. No, what I’m liking is the Mazda Senku and its elegant, drawn-out proportions and vague resemblance to the “bean” at Chicago ’s Millennium Park . The proportions, the stance, and the intent are all new to Tokyo and to Mazda — while the same can’t be said for the GT-R.

Best New Production Car: Let’s call the Lexus LF-Sh what it is — the new LS460. Finally, Lexus has a truly pretty car to take on the new S-Class and 7-Series. It and Jaguar’s XJ are the clear style leaders in luxosedans of this price point.

2005 Kia Sedona

2005 Kia Sedona

Most Significant Production Vehicle: The Toyota Prius. Sure, it’s a year old. But seeing it here — and seeing the seismic shift in the market since the last Tokyo Motor Show — you know that this is the vehicle from the past generation that belongs in an automotive museum.

Best Press Conference: Audi. If you like German cars, it was a must. But even if you prefer sake to hefeweisen, the Audi press conference still sported the return of Carla Vallet and the live performance of the new song Audi’s commissioned for the launch of the Q7, “Streets Of Tomorrow.” Try putting third-quarter results up against that.

Worst Press Conference: Toyota . You’d expect it to be oversubscribed in Japan — but you’d also expect not to have to threaten another photographer with your heavy Canon 10D to get back the shot you’d lined up before they shoved you aside. Ridiculous staging limited the number of reporters and forced you to make Sophie’s Choice to get a shot of either the Lexus LF-Sh or the i-swing concept.

Who's On Top: It’s still Toyota, and it’s going to be Toyota for a few years. If you don’t want to hear about it anymore, turn down the brightness on your screen and check out that new U.N. version of the Internet.

Who's In The Barrel: Here in Japan ? The Big Three, collectively. You could hear the crickets chirping over at the GM and Ford booths. Chrysler’s situation was only moderately better, thanks to the zen-like presence of Dieter Zetsche and the bi-national Akino (concept and designer).

Personal Best: The Strings Hotel in Tokyo’s Shinagawa district. Probably the best modern room I’ve used in the country. American-sized space with a clever design for the shower/bath, and those fancy Japanese toilets that do everything but translate. Now if we could convince them that FOX reruns of Ally McBeal do not qualify as entertainment.

Prediction for 2006: The auto show season gets as long as the tennis season and the predictable injuries begin to mount. I’m saying now that I’ll be sidelined with a repetitive mouse thingy by the time the Paris show rolls around in September. If you don’t hear from me after the 11-month slog from Los Angeles to Los Angeles (yep, they’ll have two auto shows next year) I’ve chucked it all and moved to Chad.

Biggest News Story: The 6.2-magnitude earthquake that rumbled through Tokyo after the press conferences were complete. From my hotel room, the curtains left the wall at a 30-degree angle; it went on long enough for me to send three emails and open an IM conversation with Paul. Of course, the local papers only devoted three paragraphs to the quake — apparently it was mundane by Tokyo standards.

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